January 2: Vedanayagam Samuel Azariah, First Indian Anglican Bishop, Dornakal, 1945

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About this commemoration

Vedanayagam Samuel Azariah (1874-1945) was the Anglican Church’s first Indian bishop. Zealous to promote church growth, he was also a strong advocate of ecumenism and church unity among India’s numerous Protestant denominations.

His father was a village vicar and his mother spent long hours on her son’s religious instruction. After more than a decade working with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), he was ordained a priest in 1909, and in 1912 was ordained bishop of the new Diocese of Dornakal, a populous diocese located in two parts of Madras.

Azariah was a mainstream broad church Anglican with a high priority for evangelism and much of his preaching centered on the resurrection. His ministry cut across class lines and focused heavily on rural “untouchables” caste members. The bishop’s traditional Anglicanism frustrated many Indian political leaders, who hoped he would be a
leading voice for Indian nationalism. Azariah also took sharp issue with Mahatma Gandhi, who was unalterably opposed to Christians trying to convert Indians. Azariah saw conversion as foundational to Christian mission. Gandhi acknowledged the dominant Hindu religion needed reform, but Azariah went further and said it was repressive and grounded in a destructive caste system. He said, “It is by proclamation of the truth that the early Church turned the world upside down … It is this that will today redeem Indian society and emancipate it from the thralldom of centuries.”

By 1935 the Dornakal diocese had 250 ordained Indian clergy and over 2,000 village teachers, plus a growing number of medical clinics, cooperative societies, and printing presses. Traveling over the vast diocese by bullock cart or bicycle, and accompanied by his wife and coworker, Anbu, Azariah often built his village sermons around “the four demons – Dirt, Disease, Debt, and Drink.” He believed in adapting liturgy to local cultures. Epiphany Cathedral, Dornakal, which took a quarter century to build, was an architectural statement of the bishop’s vision, mixing Muslim, Hindu, and Christian designs. He saw it as a visual statement of the gifts and beauty of other faith
traditions finding their fulfillment in Christianity.

Collects

I Emmanuel, God with us, who dost make thy home in every culture and community on earth: We offer thanks
for the raising up of thy servant Samuel Azariah as the first indigenous bishop in India. Grant that we may be
strengthened by his witness to thy love without concern for class or caste, and by his labors for the unity of the
Church in India, that people of many languages and cultures might with one voice give thee glory, Father, Son,
and Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

II Emmanuel, God with us, making your home in every culture and community on earth: We thank you for raising
up your servant Samuel Azariah as the first indigenous bishop in India. Grant that we may be strengthened by his
witness to your love without concern for class or caste, and by his labors for the unity of the Church in India, that
people of many languages and cultures might with one voice give you glory, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and
for ever. Amen.

Lessons

Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 4:1–12

Acts 14:21–27

Luke 9:46–50

Psalm

37:23–31

Preface of  God the Father

Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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7 Responses to January 2: Vedanayagam Samuel Azariah, First Indian Anglican Bishop, Dornakal, 1945

  1. Celinda Scott says:

    So glad to read this. I have a neighbor who was brought up in the Anglican church in India (he is from Kerala), and his cousin, Mary George, has come to our local university a couple of times to teach and study. She is very active in the Anglican church in Kerala. –About Gandhi: the primary drafter of the constitution of India also tangled with Gandhi on the issue of caste. Although Gandhi believed in good treatment of the untouchables, he thought the caste system itself had to be kept since it was so strongly part of Hindu scripture and tradition. And I have a cousin who is a Hare Krishna (American variety of Hinduism) who is a social worker here in the US, very kind and helpful, who nevertheless defends the caste system. –Non-Christian Indians opposed to the caste system hope that Buddhism, which originally started in India, will become stronger.

  2. Cynthia Gilliatt says:

    Good to know about him and his work. Thanks.

  3. Michael Hartney says:

    Bio. 1st paragraph: The use of parentheses is not consistent with usage throughout HWHM.
    He lacks a ‘He died in 1891.’ statement.

  4. Nigel Renton says:

    Here again we have the inappropriate dates in parentheses.

    Line 1, first paragraph: substitute “was born in a small village in South India during the year 1874” for the rest of the sentence.

    Move the second sentence of the first paragraph to the end of the second paragraph.

    Line 5, second paragraph: I do not understand “located in two parts of Madras”. Substitute “Andhra Pradesh, South India, near Chennai (formerly Madras).” for “two parts of Madras”.

    Line 3, third paragraph: insert “Dalits” and place “Untouchables” in parentheses.

    Line 9, third paragraph: insert “that” after “acknowledged”.

    Line 8, fourth paragraph: either hyphenate “quarter-century” or insert “of a” after “quarter”.

    Add a fifth paragraph: “Azariah died in Dornakal in 1943”.

  5. Leonel L. Mitchell says:

    A Holy Man and a worthwhile addition to or calendar.

  6. John LaVoe says:

    Vedanayagam Samuel Azariah, First Indian Anglican Bishop, Dornakal, 1945
    .
    1st paragraph doesn’t need “also.”
    .
    3rd paragraph: “Gandhi acknowledged [+that] the dominant Hindu religion needed reform, but Azariah
    [+saw it as being] [-went further and said it was] repressive, and grounded in a destructive caste system.
    .
    Last paragraph: I’m not sure what to do with the final three sentences. It would be better if they interlocked with each other more tightly. The following is not a prescription, but a stab at rearranging the same thoughts:
    ————————————————————————————–
    Epiphany Cathedral, Dornakal, which took a quarter of a century to build, exemplifies the bishop’s vision of how local cultures can express Christian truths. He saw in the cathedral’s mixture of Muslim, Hindu, and Christian designs an architectural expression of the gifts and beauty of other faith traditions’ finding their fulfillment in Christianity. He believed in adapting liturgy so as to embrace the culture’s traditions.
    ===================================================================================
    Collect: I love this collect. The invocation is both apt and beautiful. The thanksgiving is simple and most appropriate. The petition asks for something that can make a difference in each one’s life and circumstances,without being just another “to do” list for God. The “so that” clause is well grounded in the core calling of all Christians expressed in the Baptismal Covenant (without expecting everyone to become mini-clones of Azariah). The closing is apropos. The only two changes that occur to me are (1) to eliminate “in India” from the phrase “unity of the Church in India,” (leaving it alone in “first indigenous bishop in India”), and (2) change “many languages and cultures” to “all languages and cultures” (even though both mean the same thing in this quote). Excellent collect! Thank you!

    II Emmanuel, God with us, making your home in every culture and community on earth: We thank you for raising up your servant Samuel Azariah as the first indigenous bishop in India. Grant that we may be strengthened by his witness to your love without concern for class or caste, and by his labors for the unity of the Church in India, that people of many languages and cultures might with one voice give you glory, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

    Lessons: The reading from the Apocrypha is edifying. The Psalm, also, expresses a sense of generous compassion and liberality. The gospel selection is a good one, as well.

    Acts 14:21–27 doesn’t give a particularly apt message for this commemoration. Half of it (verses 21, 24, 25, 26) is pure or partial itinerary, and while bishops travel a lot, their mileage logs aren’t necessarily Divine Word.

    21 After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and had made many disciples, they
    returned to Lystra, then on to Iconium and Antioch.
    22 There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the
    faith, saying, “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.”
    23 And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they
    entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.
    24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia.
    25 When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.
    26 From there they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God
    for the work that they had completed.
    27 When they arrived, they called the church together and related all that God had done with
    them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles.

    I don’t have any particular alternate selection in mind. The appointed one doesn’t seem apt. (Today’s Eucharistic NT lesson for the Baptism of Our Lord, Acts 10:34ff., might be a candidate as an alternative to the one appointed.)

    I am glad to have this commemoration in HWHM, and found him an inspiration as a dedicated Christian.

    • John LaVoe says:

      About the title: Was he the “First Indian Anglican Bishop” or was he the First Indigenous Anglican Bishop in India? Or was he both?

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